He’s an aggressive Frenchman who plays on the front foot, is unafraid of getting up the pitch, pops up with a stunning goal from time to time, and, of course, floors opponents left and right like some kind of, uh, French wrecking ball. He may be the best centre-back we’ve seen since our move to the Emirates. What’s more, he’s in the conversation for best Prem centre-backs of his era. William Saliba? No. Laurent Koscielny.Continue reading
|Should I photoshop my face in here? Nah.|
Welcome to the next installment of our semi-regular, forced by this weird World Cup series in which we seek to demolish various myths that plague our beloved club. In previous installments, we’ve looked at who was the bigger snake between Fabregas and Persie (spoiler alert: the Spanish word for “snake” is serpiente) or whether it was Giroud’s fault that we failed to win the 2015-16 Prem title (it wasn’t). That brings us, dear readers, to our next installment: Laurent Koscielny is just another snake in the grass who saw that the grass was greener on the other side and made us green with envy. Or something. It’s hard to knit together more than two idioms, as I’ve just demonstrated. Anyway, if you’re going to come after Laurent Koscielny, you’re going to have to get through me first.
Okay, so you’ll probably tear me up like I’m Kleenex at a snot party, but give me a minute, will you? Sure, he made van Persie look positively noble and humble with his kit-reveal video, but, given his service to the club, I hope we’ll be willing to overlook one moment of mindless madness in the context of nine years of loyal, dedicated service. Who among us hasn’t felt overused and undervalued at a job and felt a giddy sort of liberation after leaving? That’s what it comes down to for Koscielny.
There was a time when he was in the conversation around the best CBs in the Prem (and maybe beyond). He was the cautious one, paired with Thomas “can he play DM” Vermaelen, whose habit of bombing forward to score a goal frequently left Koscielny on his own. During his nine years, he never had a proper DM shielding the defense and spent a good chunk of that same nine in front of a keepers who, to put it mildly, ranged from unconvincing to appallilng. Almunia, Szczęsny,and Fabiański, and late-stage Čech…that’s a list of names more-likely to trigger PTSD than dreams of Prem glory. Despite whomever he played with and whatever was going on, though, Koscielny rarely if ever complained. He probably could have forced a move away in his prime during those banter years. He didn’t.
Instead, he stayed on through endless and fruitless rebuilds even as others did force their way out, finding fay pay rises and smoother paths to silverware. Szczęsny. Giroud. Gnabry. Vermaelen. Van Persie. Song. Fabregas. Nasri. Clichy. Heck, that’s close to an XI that could do pretty well, but Koscielny stayed put, kept his head down, and worked his butt off.
He came back for that 2018-19 campaign on the promise that he would have a reduced role given his age and the gruesome fact that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon. Instead of honouring that promise, he was forced to play 292 minutes of football across four matches in the span of just fifteen days. That’s hardly the kind of treatment a player at his age, coming back from that kind of injury, after apparently being promised a reduced role, should have to endure. It didn’t end there. He played full 90s in the Prem 12 times in our last 19 matches, missing three other matches due to other injuries and at least 80 minutes (including full 90s seven times) in the Europa League. If you want to talk about overused and undervalued, you’ll have to get in line behind Koscielny.
If you want to blame anyone for Koscielny’s controversial departure, consider blaming Unai Emery. He’s the one who ran Kos into the ground. Well, maybe blame Kroenke and the board for asking Emery to rely on the likes of Mustafi, Sokratis, and late-stage Luiz.
By the time Koscielny refused to join the summer tour of the US, the die had been cast. Despite his body breaking down, and despite promises that he would play a reduced role, he was played intensely. And, like he’s always done, he played intensely. No one can slate him for his performances on the pitch—and no one should slate him for what happened off it. I’m not saying any of should like how he handled his departure, not for a second. For what it’s worth, he did apologize.
|Oh, how cute. An image I made back in 2013!|
To me, this is all water under a proverbial bridge. We can choose to resetnt the man for how he resolved a difficult situation that threatened his long-term health (an ambulatory life is not to be underestimated, after all) or we can choose to remember nearly a decade of dedication. Well, I had hoped to end with that classic video of Koscielny flooring varous opponents, but the killjoys at UEFA and the FA have blocked it. I hope the mere mention of it is enough to bring to mind the music and the madness of him taking down the likes of Messi, Drogba, Robben, Rooney, Suarez and so many more. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the best of ways.
Give him the respect that his service and his effort deserve.
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Koscielny and Giroud have re-upped until 2020, while le Coq had done so until 2021. Early reports suggest that none of the players’ weekly wages cross the six-figure threshold, with Giroud drawing £90k weekly, Kos drawing £80k, and le Coq £75k.
For Giroud and Kos, these likely represent their last major contracts as each will be in his mid-thirties. The only valid interpretation here is that each man has come to love his time with the club and wants to see out his career here. Especially Koscielny. the man has quietly become one of the Prem’s best centre-backs and could probably demand a higher wage-packet here or elsewhere, but it seems that he’s decided to settle down right here. More on that in a moment.
Arsène, speaking of the new contracts, had this to say:
We are very pleased that three important members of our team have committed to us for the long term. Francis has made tremendous technical strides over the past few years because he’s so focused every day. Olivier has big experience in the game now and has become a more and more complete player since joining us. Laurent is of course a key part of our squad and I believe one of the best defenders in the world today.
Well-said. While the jury may still be out on Giroud and on Coquelin, there’s one issue on which all sane Gooners (and others) should agree: Kos is, as Arsène puts it, “one of the best defenders in the world today.” He probably could have found a more-lucrative contract elsewhere, somewhere cushier where so much less depended on him, but he’s decided to stay here.
I know that I’m all too often guilty of waxing rhapsodic regarding the virtues of playing for Arsenal under Arsène, but here’s at least on case where the evidence is pretty clear. Kos was plucked up out of obscurity from Lorient in 2010 at a transfer-fee of some £11m, and he’s not only been a bedrock in defense; he’s also delivered crucial goals at crucial moments in both the Prem and FA Cup. For him to commit his future to Arsenal is, therefore, significant if not symbolic. Here, for those harbouring doubts, is the man at his best:
Kos almost certainly could have found a more-lucrative contract elsewhere. He almost certainly could have signed with a club that could all but guarantee some top-shelf silverware—a league title or the Champions League—but here, in the sunset of his career, he’s committed to Arsenal. That’s got to count for something, even more so in a world in which money talks.
He didn’t walk.
Ask yourself—but don’t answer—how many times we’ve slipped up in just this kind of match: heavily favoured, chance to go clear atop the table…some of us might have to take off a shoe or two to tally correctly. How many times have we outplayed our opponent only to come away empty-handed through some fluke or miscue, ruing how beautifully we’d played along the way? There would be none of that today, as for the second straight week, a centre-back netted the game-winner. Last week, it was Gabriel opening his account against Bournemouth; this week, it would be Koscielny. His goal might not have been as dramatic as his previous winner against Newcastle—the one that secured our fourth-place finish in 2013—but it might prove to be even more vital in the long run. There’s something to be said for the resilience and grit it takes to win these kinds of matches, and it’s that kind of resilience and grit we’ve lacked all too often in recent seasons.
We do owe Southampton and Newcastle a debt, however, and it’s one that we should pay before the bill comes due. For the second time in three matches, Mesut Özil has been tenaciously man-marked. Two weeks ago, it was Jordy Clasie who hounded and harassed Özil, and we had no answers. No one could step into the void as Özil struggled against the physicality and incessant fouling (uncalled, I might add) that Clasie and others dished out. This week, it was Cheick Tioté’s turn to badger Özil, doing just enough to disrupt the German’s élan that he struggled to create the chances we’ve come to depend on. Few others stepped up to fill the void, and it’s therefore little surprise that our best chance came from a scramble in front of Newcastle’s goal that Koscielny finally finished. The amount of effort and work more than made up for whatever the goal lacked in style or craft. However, we do have to figure out how to handle this man-marking strategy, as other managers are sure to have noticed how much it slows down our attack. This was, after all, the first Prem match in which we scored without Özil being involved. That’s not a typo. In every other Prem match in which we’ve scored, Özil has had either a goal or an assist.
Speaking of scoring and assisting, neither Ox nor Walcott did either. Both were woeful, and while that might be expected from the 22-year old Ox, we’ve come to expect—or at least pay for—more from Walcott. Ox’s development does seem to have stalled, but it doesn’t seem like we can afford to loan him out in January, not with the injury-crisis we’re still crawling out from. However, something has to change in how he’s handled or in how he approaches his role. He’s bereft of confidence and faces the cold, hard catch-22 of needing time on the pitch to work through this and struggling to endure the mistakes he can’t seem to avoid making. He’s young. There’s still time for him to grow.
With Walcott, though, the problem runs deeper. He’s a decade into his time at Arsenal, and he’s now the highest or second-highest paid player (level with or just behind Özil, depending on the source). However, he just isn’t producing. Aside from that three-match “explosion” during which he got two goals and three assists in three matches, he’s not done a whole lot. I’d said he’s peaked, but even that might be generous. Soon to turn 27, one has to wonder whether his best days are already behind him and whether Arsenal should try to sell him this summer. Players rarely get faster as they age, and Walcott’s best (only?) asset is his speed.
Setting aside the struggles of individual players, though, set your sights on the bigger picture: we won despite playing far from our best, with several key players struggling for various reasons. Aside from Čech, no one played all that well. To conjure a win out of thin air, then, is the kind of magic championships are made of. Of course, Man City went one better, falling behind 1-0 at Vicarage Road before roaring back to life to win 1-2. With Leicester dropping points for the third consecutive match, we might just have on our hands a two-team race. The only team that can stop Arsenal is Arsenal…and we showed today that we’re better than we’ve been in a while.